Ryan Ellis tallied a goal and an assist and the Nashville Predators defeated the Arizona Coyotes in a shootout, 3-2, on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. It's Nashville's fourth consecutive victory and gives them 60 points on the season, good enough to retake first place in the Central Division.
It looked as though the last-place team in the League might collect their second win of the season in as many tries over the Preds, but Ellis's late heroics, coupled with goals from Kyle Turris and Craig Smith in the shootout ensured the home team could collect two more points in the standings.
"I really thought it was a good team effort, a good group effort," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought our guys stuck with it, even when we got behind. They caught a break where they were able to slash through there and get in and were able to capitalize, but still we stuck with it. I have to give our guys a lot of credit."
"It was a good character win," Captain Roman Josi said. "We found a way, and that's all that matters."
The game's first two periods almost went scoreless, but with less than two minutes to play in the middle frame, Ellis fed Scott Hartnell on a breakaway and the veteran forward deked around goaltender Antti Raanta to pot his 100th goal in a Preds jersey and give his club a 1-0 lead.
Video: ARI@NSH: Hartnell nets Ellis' feed with pretty move
But just moments after Hartnell's tally, Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Pekka Rinne with 12 seconds to play to even the score after 40 minutes.
Brendan Perlini gave Arizona their first lead of the night with less than eight minutes to play in regulation, but a blast from Ellis at 17:24 of the third found its way to the back of the net. After a number of Nashville chances in overtime, the Preds solved Raanta twice more, while Rinne stopped three of the four shooters he faced to collect his 22nd win of the season.
"The way players are stepping up, it seems to be someone different every night," Ellis said. "That's what championship teams do. They find a way to win. It's not always pretty. I thought tonight we did a lot of good things. Tonight was one of our better offensive games, but good saves, bounces, whatever it may be, it was a close game and we found a way to win."
Video: ARI@NSH: Ellis puts it through traffic to tie it up
The Beard Is Back:
There's no other way to put it - Ryan Ellis is an incredible hockey player.
After missing the first 39 games of the season with a knee injury, Ellis returned to the Nashville lineup two days into the New Year, scoring his first goal of the campaign in his second outing.
And on Thursday against the Coyotes, he first sprung Scott Hartnell on a breakaway before tallying one of his own to force overtime, playing arguably the largest role in Nashville's win, just as he's done so many times before.
"It's great to have him back," Laviolette said. "I've been talking about how good he's been defensively, but he's great offensively, too. He has been for us; he's a big part of our offense. It's nice to see him contribute the way he did tonight. He just settles things down on the backend and layers everything; [he adds] more depth. He played a really strong game tonight."
"He's got such a great slap shot, which is surprising, because he's not very strong," Josi quipped. "I'm kidding. But no, he has a great slap shot and he's scored so many goals from that one-time position last year, and I'm sure he's going to do the same thing this year."
He's already been stellar in his six appearances this season - the two goals and two assists, combined with solid defensive play, back that up - but as Head Coach Peter Laviolette alluded to, we're just starting to see what Ellis will bring down the stretch.
"He's catching a moving train," Laviolette said of Ellis acclimating back into game shape. "I'm sure he'd tell you he feels good. Every time we talk to him he says he feels good, but I think his game will continue to get better as he plays more and gets more ice time."
And even though Preds fans have seen it before, it's oh so good to witness it again.
Video: Ellis, Smith lead Predators to SO win against Coyotes
Nashville has won their fourth consecutive game, the third time they've had a win streak of at least four this season.
The Preds are now 10-3-3 against the Pacific Division this season.
Nashville's five-game home stand continues on Saturday night when the Florida Panthers come to town before concluding with a visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.